By Julie Shapiro
TRIBECA — The first thing Kipp Osborne wants you to know about his new Canal Park Playhouse is that it’s not a theater.
Sure, the cozy performance venue, opening this week in north TriBeCa, will put on plays — but it will also host circus acts, improv troupes, open mic nights for teens and silent movies accompanied by an oboist.
"I want a nurturing space for [all] kinds of performers," said Osborne, 66, as he gave DNAinfo a tour. "I want to see a range of New Yorkers here, from all five boroughs."
Osborne, an actor and ventriloquist who has performed on Broadway, has owned the narrow, landmarked building on the west end of Canal Street for 30 years. He and his wife once used it to manufacture and sell furniture.
Then, almost two years ago, Osborne dreamed up a neighborhood space that people of all ages and income levels could enjoy.
Through a massive renovation, he carved the cellar and ground floor of 508 Canal St. into a sunny 35-seat "Front Room" for cabarets and a state-of-the-art 55-seat "Back Room" for more formal shows. He also squeezed a sound booth, a kitchen, dressing rooms, an office and bathrooms into the small space, which measures a few thousand square feet at most.
The inaugural Back Room production, opening Wednesday night, is "Sparkling Object," a new play by D.B. Gilles that explores a toxic relationship between a college professor and his 19-year-old goth daughter.
Later this fall, The Piccolini Trio will take the stage for all-ages classical clowning shows, and the playhouse will launch its resident company, Properties of Play, a team of actors that improvises shows starring a volunteer audience member.
Osborne also plans to bring in subway and street entertainers, "the kind you miss your train for," he said. He sees them as modern-day vaudeville acts, in that their work appeals to all ages and education levels.
"That’s the kind of performance I hope to do here," Osborne said. "I don’t mean I want a Hallmark greeting card. But it should be fun. You shouldn’t have to have a doctorate to understand what you’re watching."
Tickets to all performances at Canal Park Playhouse sell for $25 or less.
To accompany the shows, the playhouse’s concession stand will serve everything from organic teas and juices to old-time favorites like penny candy and $2 popcorn made with real butter.
If the red velvety seats in the Back Room look familiar, it’s because they’re from the Sullivan Street Playhouse, which shuttered in 2002. Osborne said he bought the seats on a whim years ago, without knowing how he would use them, but they perfectly fill his new theater.
Many of the other features, like furniture and set pieces, are either recycled or homemade, and Osborne invested in LED lights in an effort to be green. The playhouse does not give out paper tickets, and audience members can opt to download their own copy of the program rather than taking a printed one.
Osborne sees the playhouse as a way of returning the favor to a city that has supported him throughout his career in theater.
"The city has been incredibly generous to me," Osborne said. "It’s my small way — because god knows everything here is very small — of giving back."
"Sparkling Object," $18, opens Nov. 3 at Canal Park Playhouse, 508 Canal St., and runs Wednesday to Saturday through Nov. 20. For more information, visit the playhouse’s website.